Now before you go all pot and kettle on me, I am fully aware that it wouldn't take long for someone to find a speech by a GOP leader that is similarly misleading. Health Savings Accounts are a a good idea but they are not the panacea that some on my side of the debate seem to think they are. I also understand that some people will believe that, even after you sort out what the facts really are, something like what Obama wants to do remains a good idea.
The problem is that politicians want to prevent that major changes can be painless. Think about this. Jim Geraghty sums up what the President wants to do:
keep everything the same for those who have health insurance through their jobs, Medicare, Medicaid, or the VA; mandate coverage of pre-existing conditions; ban caps on coverage; mandate coverage of routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies; offer health insurance to 30 million uninsured; provide tax credits for small businesses; painlessly mandate coverage for the young healthy uninsured; provide hardship waivers; provide choice and competition; keep insurance companies honest; avoid taxpayer subsidies for public option plans; keep out illegal immigrants; not pay for abortions; and not deny care to the elderly because of cost-benefit analyses, all while not adding one dime to our deficits – either now or in the future.
This will supposedly cost only $ 900 billion over ten years. I don't believe that. In fact, I don't see how you can even cover 45 million Americans for that. Even if all the money were dedicated to that single purpose, this would mean that those folks can be covered for $2000/year. The type of coverage that the President wants to provide will cost several times that.
I understand that this figure is net of new taxes but that is misleading. New taxes are part of the cost.
But we'll have cost savings! Cost savings that won't cause anyone to give up anything that they want except those nasty old excess profits earned by insurance companies, drug companies and health care providers.
It is implausible to the point of being ridiculous. People don't believe it because they shouldn't. But its seen as essential to the passage of a massive new entitlement. In a moment of candor, Robert Reich, argues that misleading the public as to its cost is essential. Reviewing a book on the politics of health care, he notes:
Blumenthal and Morone’s most provocative finding is that presidents who have been most successful in moving the country toward universal health coverage have disregarded or overruled their economic advisers. Plans to expand coverage have consistently drawn cautions or condemnations from economic teams in every administration, from Harry Truman’s down to George W. Bush’s. An exasperated Lyndon Johnson groused to Ted Kennedy that “the fools had to go to projecting” Medicare costs “down the road five or six years.” Such long-term projections meant political headaches. “The first thing, Senator Dick Russell comes running in, says, ‘My God, you’ve got a one billion dollar [estimate] for next year on health. Therefore I’m against any of it now.” Johnson rejected his advisers’ estimates and intentionally lowballed the cost. “I’ll spend the goddamn money.” An honest economic forecast would most likely have sunk Medicare.
Reich is not bothered by this. He notes that Johnson's economic advisors were right about Medicare, conceding that it "is well on its way to bankrupting the nation." But the economists must still be kept "at bay."
Is this good strategy? It may be the conventional wisdom, but I wonder if it works here. By making claims that are so blatantly false, Obama provides the GOP with a target rich environment.